A Hard Look at the Industrial Relations

A Hard Look at the Industrial Relations

There are several external factors influence industrial relations. Let us take a quick look at them.

The first factor which affects industrial relations is the State Policy and Labour Laws. The Wistron violence is the example that highlights the failure of the State policies. Wistron employed 1300 permanent workers and 8500 contract workers. They were not paid the contracted wages, and were regularly required to work in a 12-hour shift. Complaints made by the workers to the Deputy commissioner of labour were of no avail. Unfortunately, Wistron is not a solitary case. One tour of the factories in Pune will convince you that this is a norm. NEEM (National Employability Enhancement Mission) which is a scheme with noble intentions has turned in to a scheme of exploitation.

There is palpable unrest among thousands of workers as they are contract workers or employed under NEEM or simply as trainees. It affects them very adversely. A worker in an MNC company’s Nashik factory worked as a trainee and temporary hand for 16 years! When I interviewed him, he said his personal life was affected because of the uncertainty created by the breaks in service he would get. In several industries a permanent worker works in the first shift, and contract workers who get paid less than half his salary work in the second and third shifts. With many companies employing 90% of their employees on contract or under NEEM, who neither have security of job nor wages on par with the permanent workers cases like him are plenty, or rule and not exception.

Now we can ask what the Government machinery is doing? Are not they implementing the Contract Labour Act, which is one among many breached? The answer is that Government has become a silent spectator to the exploitative practices.

What is the situation in the service industries like Hotels, and BPOs? It is no different.

The countervailing force to employers indulging in exploitative practices is the judiciary, and trade unions. The trade unions have become weak. Some have become self-centred – for example, some tacitly favour high level of contingent workforce like contract labour so that their incentives can be higher. And it still takes 12 to 15 years to get justice for a party in labour dispute.

These external realities are important for us, because they influence the behaviour of parties within the organisation.

Look at this picture. A man has climbed on a tank demanding permanency. The wife of a temporary worker in Pune doused herself in Kerosene and set herself on fire because of the poverty and hardship, because she could not fulfil the dream of her children who wanted to study and become engineers. And mind you, these are not solitary instances.

What does this scenario tell us? It tells us that fairness and fair-play are no longer valued, and not the basis of the employer-employee relationship. The world will appear different for a manager who does not feel the pain of the frontline soldier, namely the unskilled worker. But investigation and sensitivity will help us understand the reality.

The situation in the world is not very encouraging. Several articles are being written about how the world is full of authoritarian leaders. One hallmark of all authoritarian leaders is that they do not believe in ‘rule of law’ – they operate by ‘rule by law’. That allows Racold to close down their Chakan Factory overnight on Diwali Festival day, mailing cheques to all employees for their legal dues and compensation. And Kalyani Technoweld closed down operations overnight on 31st Dec 2019. Were they legally right in doing so? We don’t know but they must have thought that they have complied with all legal formalities. In both the cases, the production was farmed out, leaving employees under shock and staring at uncertain future. In a situation where there is no effective trade union leadership, the responsibility on the Chief Executive is higher to be fair and just to employees. Particularly because his change-management decisions will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of a few hundred if not thousand employees.

Under these circumstances, I would look to the Chief Executive to take decisive actions to promote sound employee relations. Till he does so, all talks of employee engagement will not sound honest.

And he will have to answer this question: How do you define your organisation? Does it consist of ONLY managerial staff and the permanent workers? In such a case, it will be anomalous. Wistron will exclude 8900 workers who are crucial for its operations, from calling them part of Wistron. That’s anomalous!

What I mean is we have to reflect on who we include as employees. The answer is obvious, it will have to include contract workers as well because they are engaged in direct production activity and are the largest workforce in many companies. So, their inclusion is essential.

And here I wish to mention one organization which treats all employees with equal hand irrespective of their status as permanent or contract worker. It is Shri Ramkrishna Exports at Surat. All workers get the same wage, same service conditions and all can earn up to Rs 1 Lakh per month in salary. They have 6500 workers.

For building an inclusive and non-discriminatory culture within the organisation, we should begin with the frontline soldier, that is to say, the workers on the shop floor.

And the person who can make a huge difference is the Chief Executive. He is the real HR Head. Everything begins with his leadership style and his values. Industrial relations of an organization reflect his leadership and beliefs.

PS: This is the summary of a recent discussion with a friend. Pic Courtesy: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.
“Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”